[…continued from last post]
Next, the album took a fascinating side-trip into downtempo R+B with Go-Go beats predominating. There were only a few surgical licks of rhythm guitar or strings on the darkly named “Sweet Talking Rapist At Home” to deflect attention away from the rhythm section and Dr. Robert holding court in a dark and intimate fashion. At least until the lengthy song’s middle, where Dr. Robert made space for a pungent guitar solo.
Then the brass section finally erupted into the forefront of the song near the five minute mark for a lengthy instrumental coda to the almost eight minute song. The brash trumpets manage to have a call-and-response dialogue with a rare trombone solo. Outside of the Ska genre, we don’t normally hear too many of those. The brass intensity only called more attention to the disturbing sexual grunts of Dr. Robert that were there to make us feel very uncomfortable, given the song’s title.
“Bombed Into The Stoneage” took a very political metaphor from the Reagan Era just ending and avoided expectations by applying it to a very personal song. The lush track was drenched with 70s R+B chops as the string sections gave heavy support to the band before taking the last two minutes to feature the violins in particular with their vertiginous descending hooks and solos. But the last word here was down to Dr. Robert’s jazzy piano. It was another long track at 6:00 but that had nothing on the final song.
“Let’s Emigrate” opened on a crash cymbal over a skittering, almost martial variation on the “Bo Diddley” beat. Mick Anker’s bass was right in the pocket. A foreboding synth line was tucked into the mix but the minor key sax from Neville Henry added only unease for what was about to unfold. The instrumental buildup lasted almost two minutes before the Kick Horns blasted into the arrangement to seize the spotlight.
The upbeat chorus managed to briefly dispel the clouds of dread that enshrouded this one as they dared to move the song briefly into major key. But the funereal pace once returned with the next, damning verse.
Then another major key chorus was unleashed with Mr. Henry’s sax playing along nicely, until the transition out of the chorus back into the relentless verse structure that had the sax put the boot in for the intense climax to the song. It was another 2:30 of brooding intensity with the sax and brass scraping away at the listener as the song dared to cross the 8:30 mark.
In one way, the follow up to The Blow Monkey’s fourth album continued in the same, very eclectic vein as their third one had. I ways, it felt like the first three albums had been plundered for their disparate styles: Jazz, Soul, Modern R+B, but there was an addition here with House Music making a dramatic appearance in their musical toolbox. While the 1988 mix of “This Is Your Life” hinted in that direction with Stephen Hague production, the hits “Wait!” and “This Is Your Life [remix]” as produced with more immediacy by Dr. Robert himself, showed a more ground-level connection to the new dance style. And that had to have factored into their chart success when held next to the glossier Hague productions on the record.
Not that I’m saying any track on the album was weak. The songs and production all pop for my ears. But in 1988 the UK pop market was shifting dramatically. House Music was the tail that wagged the chart pop dog, and the rules were very different. A single person with a sampler could now top the charts, which was, in effect, what happened with “Wait!” And the House sound gave the band a second wind on the UK charts.
And the joy of all of this was that, unlike many who bolted the Emperor’s New House Beats to their songs and it sounded leaden and forced, the approach taken by The Blow Monkeys managed to sound full of integrity in comparison. Dr. Robert was already a fan of Soul music, and he chose a Soulful Deep House path, and managed to write some of his best songs yet at the same time. This meant that unlike many Synthpop acts past their sell-by date who tried the same tactic, I didn’t resent the new Blow Monkeys sound when it happened. It was just another facet of this band’s productive growth that had always been in their DNA.
And House Music wasn’t the only pull here for me. I love this album from start to finish. The four tracks by Leon F. Sylvers III took the modern R+B/New Jack Swing that had sounded a little cheap on “She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter” and had invested it with the caliber of arrangements that took that sound and reached back into the 1970s [the era that had forged Sylver’s band The Sylvers] to give it a depth and complexity that managed to link the two very different eras of R+B.
Meanwhile, Stephen Hague let the band’s Jazz roots flow copiously on the stunning “Squaresville” that was the furthest thing from the Synthpop that Hague had made a name with; showing the fullest range of his talents. And the two tracks that Julian Mendelsohn produced showed a depth not always present in his penchant for breezy pop. “Let’s Emigrate” was a powerful gut punch to finish the album.
The melange of producers and production styles was stretched to the limit here, but again, I will point to the caliber of the songs that Dr. Robert was bringing to the game. Songs that effortlessly fused his political concerns with his Pop acumen and conveyed them very effectively. The power of the core band were as usual, abetted here with horns and strings [the strings in particular] that invested the material with a richness that called back successfully to the sounds of the 70s that had influenced the group while avoiding the mid-80s sonic taint of cheap digital production.
When I heard this album in 1989, I felt that it sounded as great as an album as “Animal Magic” had, but everything was taken to a higher level of accomplishment. “Whoops! There Goes the Neighbourhood” represented a second plateauing of the band. But I was disturbed by the contraction of the band’s marketability as determined by RCA. Let’s look at the release data, The Blow Monkeys had four albums thus far which were released in this many configurations, according to their Discogs data.
- Limping For A Generation [13 releases]
- Animal Magic [30 releases]
- She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter [32 releases]
- Whoops! There Goes The Neighbourhood [12 releases]
We can see the uncommercial first album released in a handful of world markets. UK, Japan, Germany, and Spain. RCA had more confidence in “Animal Magic.” It was issued in most major world markets, and even had a hit in America. Much the same happened for “She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter,” though it was the band’s swansong in America, and didn’t have any hits. “Whoops! There Goes The Neighbourhood” cut the large North American market out of the picture and was sold in nine markets. And it had a big hit with “Wait!” as its calling card!
This was the first Blow Monkeys album that I did not buy in a store, as I was relying on CD catalogs heavily by the time of its release to expand my musical horizons. What I could not know at the time was that this would set the tone for buying any Blow Monkeys music going forward. All of the subsequent albums in my Record Cell were either bought via mail order or from the band directly. With the band hitting new heights artistically, this made my continued fandom and collecting of them more difficult than I would have preferred.
Next: …Choices, Slavery And Temptation
I landed here searching for Gina X Performance but I am happily surprised to see such detailed Blow Monkeys coverage. “This is Your Life” was the would be hit that got away. I have three different 12″ versions of it but I still think the original Stephen Hague version is the best.
It would be interesting to compare the trajectories of The Blow Monkeys vs. The Style Council. They seemed to be running on parallel tracks for a time.
Fragile Gods – Welcome to the comments! Come for the Gina X Performance…stay for the Blow Monkeys! Either way, we’re all about the detail here at PPM. You’re right, of course. Dr. Robert was always beholden to Paul Weller as much as Marc Bolan as a formative influence. Why else would they have picked Peter Wilson as their first producer? And the Dr. Robert/Weller crossovers are well known and plentiful. But from my perspective, I liked The Jam [a lot] but could never come around to The Style Council. I bought their first single and being non-plussed, jumped from the Weller train, never to return. At one point I had the Slam Slam album but quickly moved on from that. Heard early solo Weller playing in an antique store and bought “Wild Wood” [which had just come out] and was once again disappointed. Maybe I should try The Style Council again after 40 years?
I see your own music is described as being influenced by Nitzer Ebb and Cabaret Voltaire? This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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> Maybe I should try The Style Council again after 40 years?
I think you should give them another spin. I have only started exploring their catalog recently and I keep finding songs that I like that sound quite similar to something by The Blow Monkeys. For example, I think you could drop “Speak Like A Child” from 1983 onto the album “She Was Only a Grocer’s Daughter” and most listeners wouldn’t notice the song was from a different band. Then the unreleased “Modernism: A New Decade” is very similar to a lot of “Springtime for the World.”
> I see your own music is described as being influenced by Nitzer Ebb and Cabaret Voltaire?
Those influences are still there but my new stuff is more pop with elaborate female backing vocals. One of these days, I have to update that description. :)